Skip to main content

Full text of "Rapid Population Growth Consequences And Policy Implications"

See other formats

national levels. How or why did it happen? Demographers have invoked a variety of explanations. Not long ago Freedman summarized them this way:
The large declines in fertility in economically developed countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries probably are unprecedented. The changes in specific intermediate variables producing the decline varied somewhat from country to country. Most sociologists and demographers would probably agree, however, that the basic causes of the general decline are: (a) a major shift in functions from the family to other specialized institutions, so that there was a decrease in the number children required to achieve socially valued goals, and (b) a sharp reduction in mortality which reduced the number of births necessary to have any desired number of children. (1, p. 53)
While this analysis of causal factors may certainly be correct, it is probable that the great mass of people who made the decisions that produced the phenomenon based their decisions on less abstract rationales. Given the methods of limiting family size available at the time, it seems reasonable to assert that powerful and sustained motivating forces must have been at work to produce the results in large population groups that we recognize in retrospect as unprecedented declines in fertility. It seems equally reasonable to assume that this motivation must have come from the everyday life situation of the people involvedfrom an immediate awareness of problems felt acutely at the family level, problems clearly recognized as arising from having too many children.
Returning to this century-to this year-and examining the phenomenon so prevalent in many parts of the world of extra-legal abortion, we are driven to a similar conclusion. We know now that the overwhelming majority of such abortions are performed because married women want desperately to limit their family size and have no effective or accessible alternative. Only powerful and immediate motivating forces can account for this decision. They must come from intensely felt pressure at the family level, pressure explicitly associated with family size and the clearly anticipated effects-  detrimental effects-associated with having "another mouth to feed,"
If this speculation is correct, if it is true that population pressure felt at the family level produced widespread declines in birth rates in industrialized countries and high abortion rates in others, there has been surprisingly little attention paid to it and equally little systematic study of the effects of this pressure at the family level. There have, at least, been recent expressions of the need for such study. Stycos, at a conference on teaching family planning to medical students, referred specifically to the need for more exact knowledge of the health consequences of family size in order to appeal to humanitarian interests in motivating medical students (2). Berclson has also calk'U